Pope in Bahrain - Day One: Peaceful coexistence for all peoples
By Devin Watkins - Manama, Bahrain
“Peace… as we welcome the Pope of the Vatican”
Thus read the headline of a major Arabic-language newspaper sitting on the coffee table at a hotel in Manama, the capital city of Bahrain, on Thursday morning.
And peace looks set to form the focus of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to this Muslim-majority island nation in the Gulf.
His first public speech was addressed to the civil authorities and diplomatic corps of Bahrain, but his message was much more global.
Three times he repeated that appeal, ending with an urgent cry for peoples everywhere to be committed to building peace.
Living together in peace and respect
On the ground here in Bahrain, every person we meet affirms that people of various religions are welcomed with open arms, and given the space they need to practice their faith.
They note that Christmas decorations abound in public places in December, and the Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated publicly, just to name a couple.
A concrete example can be found just to the south of Manama, at the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.
The church was built on a 9-hectare plot of land donated to the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Work began in May 2014 and the Cathedral was inaugurated in December 2021.
Pope Francis visits the new church on Friday to hold an ecumenical prayer for peace, on the same day he joins around 200 religious leaders of different faiths for the closing session of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue.
Humanity’s journey toward peace
Bahrain has enjoyed continuous human presence for over 4,500 years, as attested by ancient ruins of pagan temples.
In those centuries, the island has served as a place of encounter between peoples, a fact highlighted by the subtitle of the Bahrain Dialogue Forum: “East-West Dialogue for Human Coexistence”.
As the Pope begins this visit which he has said will be “interesting”, perhaps another important step will be taken in humanity’s long and arduous journey in the direction of peace.
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